The government has told the Supreme Court it will not change cremation/burial protocols for the bodies of those who died of COVID-19 in order to accommodate funeral rites of the Parsi community, who traditionally allow corpses to decay naturally.
The government pointed out that these rites involve exposing the body, which could still contain active traces of the coronavirus, to professional pall bearers and the virus could spread.
The government also argued that the bodies of Covid-infected persons would also be exposed to the environment and animals if not buried or cremated.
Parsi rituals, however, prohibit the burial or cremation of dead bodies.
The government was responding to a plea by the Surat Parsi Panchayat Board requesting permission to perform the last rites – in line with Parsi tradition – of members who had died of Covid.
The petitioner had moved the Supreme Court after a plea was rejected by the Gujarat High Court.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna had sought the government’s response.
During today’s hearing Senior Advocate Fali S Nariman, appearing for the petitioners, told the top court: “(Among) Parsis there are Nasheshalars – professional corpse-bearers – but the guidelines do not mention any other mode of disposal of dead bodies other than cremation and burial. Article 21 (Right to Life) is not just for living people but also for post-death…”
Earlier the High Court said the Health Ministry had issued guidelines in “the larger public interest for the disposal of dead bodies” and could not be said to be violative of Parsis’ fundamental rights.
The High Court refused the Board’s petition saying: “… more particularly, when such means of disposal of dead bodies is also in vogue in all parts of the country, and when it is not anathematic and sacrilegious to the religious practices being followed by the Parsis.”